Not just for play: Video games seek to motivate youth on climate change

More than just entertainment, games hold promise in bringing more awareness to world issues and to spur social change. Photo by: Ben Andreas Harding / CC BY-NC-SA 

On the surface, games may seem to have little to do with climate change. But games can create the opportunity for people to grapple with complex, abstract issues like climate change in individualized and concrete ways.

And the concept is catching on. Developers of the wildly popular “Angry Birds,” which has been downloaded 2.8 billion times, announced that they will be releasing in September 2015 their “Champions for Earth” level, which focuses on raising awareness of climate change.

Climate change is predicted to hit Asia hard, likely causing typhoons, floods, famine and rising sea levels that will put millions of people at risk. Yet it’s difficult for individuals — regardless of social, economic or political status — to envision scenarios of climate resilience that would protect themselves, their families, communities and countries. It is particularly important for youth, who face a challenging future because of climate change, to be a part of developing solutions.

Games for Change,” a movement toward using digital games to spur social change, holds promise in helping people, especially youth, explore timely, critical topics — and has proven popular. For example, a video game called “Papers, Please” immerses players in a world of immigration issues, has won a number of awards and has been downloaded half a million times.

To get ahead of environmental disasters and build resilience, we must engage and educate our youth — tomorrow’s leaders and decision-makers.

Many of today’s youth are captivated more by games than by contemplating their emerging leadership roles or the effect of an uncertain and changing climate on their communities, environment or country. Youth in Asia spend almost 10 hours each day consuming some form of media, including video games, television and others. Current trends point to the significant growth in access to and engagement with mobile technology and games. In Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, there were 85 million gamers in 2013 — a number that is expected to grow to 130 million by 2017.

Development and technology practitioners from FHI 360 and a consortium of South and Southeast Asian university climate researchers, urban planners, disaster risk reduction specialists and game developers are exploring how games for change can be optimally used to address climate change in Asia. FHI 360’s ultimate goal — to develop a climate resilience game — has the potential to spread virally among youth across the region.

Whether or not games will save the planet remains to be seen, but games may well create a new generation of social activists, especially when it comes to climate change.

This blog post is part of a series highlighting the innovative projects supported by the Global Resilience Partnership, an initiative by The Rockefeller Foundation, U.S. Agency for International Development and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency designed to help millions in Africa and Asia build more resilient futures.

You can help shape our coverage on global development innovations by emailing or tweeting #innov8aid.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

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